Boating and Alcohol: The Laws

Boating and alcohol laws vary from state to state. In Illinois is is illegal to operate any boat, or manipulate any waterski, surfboard, or similar device while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is illegal for the owner of any boat to knowingly allow the boat to be operated by a person who is intoxicated or under the influence of any narcotic drug, barbiturate, or marijuana.

In Illinois, a person is considered to be under the influence if:

  • They have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher.
  • They are under the influence of any other drug or combination of drugs to a degree which renders such person incapable of safely operating any watercraft.
  • They are under the influence of any intoxicating compound or combination of intoxicating compounds to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating any watercraft.
  • There is any amount of a drug, substance, or compound in the person’s blood or urine resulting from the unlawful use or consumption of cannabis, a controlled substance, or an intoxicating compound.

Boating and Alcohol

In Illinois, a person convicted of operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol will be subject to the following penalties:

  • Upon a first conviction: A fine of up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment for up to 1 year.
  • A second or subsequent conviction can result in more severe fines and penalties.

If an operator with a previous conviction injures a person, or operates a boat while under the influence while their operator privileges are suspended, they may be charged with a class 4 felony.

If the operator causes the death of another person, they can be charged with a class 2 felony.

Implied Consent

Any person operating a boat on Illinois waters is deemed to have given consent to a chemical test or tests of their blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of their blood and the presence of an abused substance or controlled dangerous substance. Refusal to submit to testing will result in the loss of boat operating privileges for a period of 2 years.

Illinois’ Law Enforcement Authority

Illinois’ boating laws are enforced by:

  • Officers of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
  • Conservation Police Officers.
  • Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and other police officers.

Law enforcement have the authority to stop and board boats to ensure that they are in compliance with state and federal laws. It is illegal to refuse to follow the directions given by law enforcement authority. An operator who has received a visual or audible signal from a law enforcement officer must bring his or her boat to a stop.

You must yield and operate at a ‘Slow – No Wake’ speed when being approached by or when passing an emergency boat using its visual signals. Failure to comply will result in the suspension of boat operating privileges for a period of 3 months for up to 2 years.